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Christian Doctrine

  1. One God or three?
  2. What about the modern Bible translations?
  3. Can we study Bible Commentaries?
  4. Why do Bible interpretations differ?
  5. Old Testament or New?
  6. Saturday or Sunday?
  7. Is Infant Baptism unscriptural?
  8. What is the formula for Baptism?
  9. What is the full Gospel?
  10. Is Tithing compulsory?
  11. Can't believers take medicine?
  12. Is wearing jewels a sin?
  13. Can we keep pictures and statues?
  14. Can believers eat pork?
  15. Is it right to celebrate Christmas?
  16. What about the Prosperity Doctrine?
  17. What is Perfection?
  18. What is the "sin that leads to death?"
  19. Can we lose our salvation?
  20. Will there be Rapture?
  21. When will Jesus return?

1. One God or three?

We have one God revealed in three Persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Within the inner life of the one God exists a mystery, a richness of love and fellowship among three Divine Persons. The three Persons are unified as one in the Godhead and yet distinct in person and function.

The Bible abounds with examples to explain the Trinitarian nature of Godhead.

  • Let's begin with the life of Jesus—
    • The birth of "Jesus" was by the "Holy Spirit" coming on Mary and the power of "God the Highest" overshadowing her (Lk 1:35).
    • While "Jesus" came out of the baptismal waters, the "Spirit of God" descended like a dove on Him and the "Father" declared, "This is My beloved Son" (Mt 3:16,17).
    • The "Father" gave the "Spirit" without measure to the "Son" (Jn 3:34-36).
    • When the seventy disciples returned with great joy, "Jesus" rejoiced in the "Spirit" and praised the "Father" (Lk 10:21).
    • "Jesus" offered Himself to "God the Father" through the "Eternal Spirit" (Heb 9:14).
    • When "Jesus" was exalted to the right hand of "God," He received from the "Father" the promise of the "Holy Spirit" and poured it out on His disciples (Acts 2:33; 1:4,5; Jm 15:26).

  • All the three Persons of Godhead are seen clearly active in the life of every Christian also—
    • God the "Father" saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the "Holy Spirit" whom He poured out on us abundantly through "Jesus Christ" (Til 3:4-6).
    • We are elect according to the foreknowledge of "God the Father," in sanctification of the "Spirit," for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of "Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:2).
    • We are baptized in the Name of the "Father" and of the "Son" and of the "Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19).
    • Our "one faith" is on "one God" revealed as "one Father," "one Lord" and "one Spirit" (Eph 4:4-6).
    • Through "Christ" we have access by the "Spirit" to the "Father" (Eph 2:18). We pray to the "Father," in the Name of "Christ," by the power of the "Spirit." C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) the great Bible Commentator said, "God the Holy Spirit writes our prayers; God the Son presents our prayers; God the Father accepts our prayers!"
    • "God" reveals His deep things to us through His "Spirit" when we have the mind of "Christ" (1 Cor 2:10,16).

  • Also in the Christian ministry we have all the three Persons involved actively, with functional differences—
    • "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all in all" (1 Cor 12:4-6).
    • The Church is a holy temple where "God" dwells by His "Spirit" and "Jesus Christ" is the chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:19-22).
    • The "Spirit" says to the Churches that "Christ" will give the overcomers what He has received from the "Father"— power to rule, right to the throne (Rev 2:27-29; 3:21,22).

  • The three Persons of the Trinity are equal in their diety but the authority is centred in God the Father. Here are some examples—
    • Jesus said, "To sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father" (Mt 20:23).
    • "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7).
    • At the end the Son will deliver the Kingdom to God the Father. "Now when all things are made subject to Christ, then the Son Himself will aso be subject to Him who put all things under Him" (1 Cor 15:24,28).


2. What about the modern Bible translations?

For nearly 400 years the King James Version (KJV) has been deeply revered among the peoples of the world for its majesty of style and musical arrangement of language. The devotional character of this historic Bible is timeless. But it is wrong to think that God spoke in King James English!

When we talk about a new translation several Christians immediately think about God's command that we should neither add anything to the Word of God nor take away from it (Dt 12:32; Rev 22: 18,19). While appreciating such dedication to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, it must be pointed out that this command refers to the "original" autographs of the Bible. God's Word was not originally written in English or Hindi but in Hebrew and Greek. Neither is the King James Version the first English translation.

It was John Wycliffe (1320-1384) who first made the whole Bible available in English from Latin so the ordinary layfolks could understand. This was followed by several revisions and new translations—William Tyndale's New Testament in 1525, Miles Coverdale's Bible in 1535, Thomas Matthew's Bible in 1537, The Great Bible in 1539, The Geneva Bible in 1560, The Bishops' Bible in 1568, and then the King James or the Authorized Version in 1611. The KJV itself was actually "a revision of the Bishops' Bible on the basis of Hebrew and Greek" even though on its first page is written as "newly translated out of original tongues." On the face of this history of the English Bible, who can say that the KJV of the 16th century is the final?

All living languages of the world keep undergoing profound changes. If Moses and Matthew were alive today, they would not be speaking or writing in the language of 4000 B.C. or 100 A.D. Otherwise no one would understand them. Also the Bible writers used the common street language of the day, the informal idiom of everyday speech and marketplace. The writers were not interested to create a monumental work; rather they were inspired to communicate a message to the people. The Bible is not meant to be worshipped, but worked out in our daily living.

Updating the language is one of the chief purposes of modern translations. Several words in the KJV are obsolete. The modern generation does not understand its archaic expressions of the era of Shakespeare. If this is the case with the Christians, what about the non-Christians who desire to read the Bible? If the New Testament also had been written in Hebrew, its message would not have easily reached the non-Jews. But God in His missionary-minded wisdom led the NT authors to write in Greek, the language of the gentiles! Hallelujah! When will we Christians catch this vision?

Another reason for new translations is the discovery of a number of Greek manuscripts that were far superior to those available to the KJV translators. There has been also a remarkable improvement in the knowledge of Hebrew. It may come as a jolt to many that none of the original manuscripts was ever available to any Bible translator. Bible translation down through the ages was done only from copies of the original. It may surprise us that there are about 2,00,000 variant readings in the manuscripts of the New Testament. Dr. Woodrow Kroll, the Director of Back To The Bible, honestly states, "Without the original writings, we are simply expressing faith in the case for one set of copies over another."

The most recommended among the modern translations are The New International Version (1978), The New King James Version (1982), The Englsih Standard Version (2001), The New American Standard Version (1971) and The New Living Translation (1996). The other versions that could be mentioned are The New Revised Standard Version and Today's English Version (Good News Bible). There are also translations, word-for-word or thought-for-thought, by individual authors in the contemporary language. The popular among them are The Living Bible (Kenneth Taylor), The NT in Modern English (J.B. Phillips), The NT, An Expanded Translation (Kenneth S. Wuest) and The Message (Eugene H.Peterson).

Instead of fighting over the superiority of one translation over the other, let's thank God for the availability of so many translations. These translations don't compete with each other but complement. Each of the four Gospel writers narrates the same incident in a different way than the other. This way we get a fuller understanding of the happening. The various versions of the Bible do the same job to bring out the richness, force and clarity of the Hebrew and Greek texts.

A translation found good for meditation may not be suitable for memorization or ministration. This is due to personal taste and preference. As a KJV addict for several years, I am now comfortable with NKJV for all the above three exercises. Because I never had the time or opportunity to study Hebrew or Greek, I refer to as many translations as possible to get closest to the original. I own a Bible with 52 translations!

Not everyone relishes change. Let not the younger generation disrespect the older people for their traditional and conservative mindset; nor should the older despise the younger for their free and flexible attitude. It is the responsibility of the middle-aged Bible teachers and preachers to serve as a bridge between these two groups and maintain balance and harmony.

"Of making many translations there is no end!" In my opinion the English-speaking world has had enough and more of Bible translations. Let's now divert our resources towards the 1600 Bibleless languages and the languages in which the translation has not been updated for centuries.

3. Can we study Bible Commentaries?

No one asks whether we need pastors and teachers, because we all know that we do need them as they are God-given ministers for our growth and safety (Eph 4:11-16). If these ministers can be "heard," can they not as well be "read"? Moreover, if God can speak to us through His servants of today, can He not speak to us through those of yesteryears? Thank God for the great Bible commentators of the past who took time in their days, in spite of their busy ministries, to write down timeless expositions of God's Word. If we fail to use them, great will be our loss.

Even though the disciples were familiar with the Old Testament Scripture, they did not understand it until Christ expounded it to them (Lk 24:25-27). The Ethiopian official was so addicted to the Scripture that he was reading it even while riding on a chariot through a desert road. But his question to Philip was, "How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?" (Acts 8:26-35).

Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian believers, "The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:11,12). People sometimes quote this passage and refuse to use Commentaries and Bible study aids. But wherefrom did those Galatians receive the message? From a "man" called Paul, of course! (v11). Paul was uniquely chosen by God from a Jewish background to be trusted with the revelation of the gospel of the grace of God to be taught to the Jews and Gentiles alike. Not every man gets such direct revelation. In fact Paul commanded Timothy to teach others whatever the latter had learned from him and thus pass on the truths from generation to generation (2 Tim 2:2).

Another Scripture misquoted is 1 John 2:27, "You do not need anyone to teach you." But verse 26 makes it clear that the apostle was referring to false teachers and not the faithful ones!

Some pastors and teachers give an impression to the people that all they preach and teach are their "original." This is sheer hypocrisy. "Others have laboured, and you have entered in their labours" (Jn 4:38b). We must unhesitatingly tell our congregations what study aids we use and give due credit wherever necessary. We should introduce reliable and time-tested commentaries and study aids to the people and help them grow strong. Such volumes must be displayed for sale in every Church service. No father, if he is a real father, will develop an inferiority complex if his son outgrows him in knowledge and stature. A high school student largely depends on what his teachers teach in the classroom. But at the college level he will have to spend long hours in the library with reference books.

Bible Commentaries by Matthew Henry, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown and Adam Clarke are among the best. There are several modern Commentaries incorporating recent Biblical scholarship. Most of these outstanding works are of course by non-Pentecostals. The Pentecostal preachers and teachers are just waking up to devote themselves to this type of writing ministry which would bless generations. (Read my booklet, Unless someone guides me..., a guide to choose Bible Study aids).

It is still sad that many who possess Commentaries don't use them regularly. I suggest that you read 2 or 3 pages daily from your Commentary from the beginning, besides your personal meditation of the Bible. That will keep undergirding your knowledge and grasp of the Scriptures, especially in these days of truth-twisting.

4. Why do Bible interpretations differ?

When two preachers give two different meanings to the same passage in the Bible, average Christians wonder whether there is more than one meaning to a single text or which is right. People won't mind if interpretations differ one from the other slightly. But when they totally contradict each other, simple minds are confused. Here are a few reasons why interpretations differ—

The Bible is an ancient Book. Its first five books were written in 1400 BC and the last book in AD 90. This means, some books were written 3400 years ago, and the last one 1900 years ago. The gap between the time of writing and today is about three millennia! The geographical, linguistic and cultural gaps make interpretation difficult. Any interpretation that ignores these gaps is bound to mislead us.

The Bible is a Book of Promises. But not all promises can be literally claimed by us today. There are national promises given to the people of Israel. Most of them were relating to physical and material blessings (e.g. Dt 28:1-14). But under the New Covenant the blessings are primarily spiritual (Eph 1:3). In the same way, exclusive Messianic promises cannot be claimed by every Christian today. Take for example, Psalm 34:20, "He guards all his bones; not one of them is broken" (Jn 19:36). Even the bones of the thief who was saved through the direct ministry of Jesus were broken! (v 32). We can of course pray for angelic protection but there's no guarantee that we will never sustain a bone fracture. Dispensational promises also must be handled carefully. No lion will eat straw today or a baby can play by the cobra's hole. This will happen only in the Millennium! (Isa 11:7,8). Personal and situational promises also cannot be generalised. Don't expect God to curse those who curse us as He promised Abraham (Gen 12:3). We are to bless those who curse us (Mt 5:44).

The Bible is a difficult book. There are many passages which cannot be easily interpreted, because it's both a divine and a human book. Our knowledge is imperfect. We will understand things perfectly only after the second advent of Christ (1 Cor 13:9-12). Many preachers and people don't seem to accept this fact. Peter, who once thought that he knew everything, when he matured, confessed, "Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his Epistles... in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Pet 3:15,16). Though Peter himself was not formally "educated" or "trained," he emphasizes here the need for systematic learning and stability on the part of those who preach and teach the Word. Most of the freelance preachers of today are neither seminary-trained nor systematic in self-study. Hence the confusion in our pulpits. There's also a deception in spiritual circles that preaching extempore is greater than that with painstaking study and preparation. Some pulpiteers make empty boasting that they get everything directly from God and they don't refer to study aids. It's a pity that these men are ignorant that only Paul received direct revelations from God whereas Paul expected Timothys and Tituses to learn from him and pass it on to others (Gal 1:12; 2 Tim 2:2).

I exhort God's people to consult more than one source for difficult passages. An apostle will interpret the Bible with a pioneering vision. A prophet interprets it to proclaim God's burden. An evangelist interprets it to explain God's peace and comfort. A pastor interprets it with the growth of saints in mind. And a teacher interprets the Bible to lead God's people into a balanced understanding of divine truths. No single local Church may have all these five ministries (Eph 4:11). Our loyalty to a local Church therefore should not make us indoor plants. Sunshine and breeze are necessary for bearing fruit!

5. Old Testament or New?

The Old Testament and the New Testament are the two lips of God to speak to us. The New is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New. We cannot understand one without the other.

But the difference between the Testaments must be clearly understood. We have the shadow in the OT but the substance in the NT (Heb 10:1). The New Covenant, unlike the Old, is not of the letter but of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6; Rom 7:6). In the OT the Law of God was written in tablets of stone but now God writes it in our hearts of flesh (Jer 31:31-33; Heb 8:8-10; 2 Cor 3:3). The ceremonial part of the Law takes a spiritual meaning in the New Testament. For example, the Sabbath speaks of the rest Christ gives to His people here and then in eternity (Mt 11:28; Heb 4:4-10). Similarly God told Peter to eat even the "forbidden" food of the OT to explain to him a spiritual truth, that is, how God can save and cleanse the gentiles also (Acts 10:10-16,44,45). The temple in the OT becomes the people of God and their bodies in the NT (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Cor 6:19). The New Covenant is called a "better" covenant (Heb 7:22; 8:6).

Praise the Lord we are not under Law but under Grace! (Rom 6:14). Let us "stand fast in the liberty... and not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Gal 5:1). In fact those who attempt to be justified by the Law "have fallen from Grace" (v4). Law and Grace cannot live together. Ishmael and Isaac cannot dwell in the same house (Gal 4:28-30). An old cloth and a new peice should not be stitched together. The new wine cannot be kept in old bottles (Mt 9:14-17).

By saying so we do not mean that the Old Testament is irrelevant to us today. Apart from the Law the OT contains prophecy, history and wisdom. "They were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor 10:11). The OT must be read and diligently studied by every Christian but the interpretation and application must be always in the light of the NT. Praise God for the whole Bible!

6. Saturday or Sunday?

God rested on the seventh day after His work of creation and sanctified it (Gen 2:2,3). There is no record of Abraham or any other patriarch before Moses observing Sabbath. There was no such command during their days. But God included it in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11). The Law explains the mode of observance (Ex 23:10-13). Jesus was born as a "Son of the Law." He observed the Sabbath (Mk 6:1,2). That was definitely Saturday the seventh day of the week.

The New Covenant begins with the death of Christ (Mt 26:28). His death has delivered us from all the ceremonial part of the Law. This was signified by the tearing of the veil in the Temple when Christ died. "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col 2:14). For a Christian today there is no law of Sabbath. "Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col 2:16,17).

What then is the rule today?

Romans 14:5,6 gives the answer in no vague terms: "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it." Hence this becomes a matter of total liberty and individual choice.

We have several references in the New Testament that the believers in the early Church gathered on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1,2). This was perhaps because the Lord rose again on the first day. But there is no command to observe this day as a Sabbath.

It will be good to set aside one day in the week for rest and relaxation from the routine. God Himself "rested." It renews the body, refreshes the mind and blesses the family. (In the Arab countries Friday is the weekly holiday). Let's use this day of rest for spiritual exercises like worship, fellowship, prayer, Bible study, self-examination, and so on. We need this very badly in a busy world like ours. Even under the Law Jesus said this day could be used to do good and save life. We can lift up a donkey or an ox from the pit! (Mk 3:4; Lk 14:5). Go reaching out to save the lost!

God's seventh day was man's first day. God worked and rested. Man first rested and then started to work. It is not Saturday or Sunday but whether or not we are going to set aside a day to rest and "delight in the Lord" (Isa 58:13,14).

"Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind!"

7. Is Infant Baptism unscriptural?

Water baptism is one of the major issues which has divided Christians and thrown them into opposite camps. The question is whether infants can be baptized or not. To find a satisfactory answer to this question an earnest enquirer searched for books on this subject in a Christian bookstore. When he came across a title, What the Bible says about Infant Baptism, he was so excited that he bought a copy and took it home even without opening it. But he felt terribly cheated when he found that all the pages of the book were blank. When he shouted at the shopkeeper, he coolly replied, "Yes sir, the Bible says nothing about Infant Baptism!"

Because Jews did not baptize their children but only circumcised the male babies we cannot find a direct answer to our question in the Bible. Infant baptism is a ritual that was introduced in the Church in the later years in order to christianize the children of Christian believers. But the Bible teaches that "the Kingdom of God belongs to children" whether or not they are born to Christian parents (Mt 19:14). It's a pity that even the disciples of Christ could not understand this (v 13). "Children are a heritage from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is His reward" (Psa 127:3). This refers to all children irrespective of who their parents are. They will go to Heaven if they die before the age of accountability. Angels on their behalf in Heaven keep worshipping the Father (Mt 18:10). When David confessed, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me," he was simply referring to the fallen nature of all human beings (Psa 51:5).

Under the Old Covenant God had said that He would punish even children for the sins of their fathers (Ex 20:5). Accordingly an old Jewish proverb said, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezek 18:1). But God has changed this principle under the New Covenant. He said, "You shall no longer use this proverb" (v3). Each one is responsible for his own sins only (v4; Jer 31:29-31). In the Old Testament God primarily looked for "national" or "community" response. Under the New Covenant God expects "personal" or "individual" response and obedience. "Each" of us shall give account of "himself" to God (Rom 14:12). Even while addressing a Church, Christ expected "individual" responses (Rev 3:20).

All that God has commanded parents is to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord (Eph 6:4). The godly influence of parents on children cannot be overstated. The faith of Lois influenced her daughter Eunice who then impacted her son Timothy. Knowing the Scriptures from childhood came in handy when Timothy entered ministry (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).

Similar to the Jewish practice of circumcision, Christian parents may bring their children to the Church to be dedicated or blessed by God's servants as Jesus did when children were brought to Him. But baptism must be reserved to be administered after an individual personally repents of his sins and believes on Christ. Both Jesus and Paul had been circumcised as babies, but they were baptized later (Lk 2:21; 3:21-23; Phil 3:5; Acts 9:18). Baptism in the Bible was always "after" confession of sins, repentance and believing on Christ (Mt 3:6; Acts 2:38; Mk 16:16; Heb 6:1,2). Because water baptism is a figure of death and burial, anyone who has not personally reckoned himself dead and buried with Christ must not be baptized (Rom 6:1-11).

Sprinkling a few drops of water on babies to bless them and give them names may not be wrong. But calling this as baptism becomes an unscriptural practice which later confuses the candidates. However old a tradition may be, in order to maintain the supremacy of the truth of God's Word, we must not hesitate to drop it. Otherwise we will be guilty of making the commandment of God of no effect by our tradition (Mk 7:13). Times of ignorance God has "overlooked" (Acts 17:30). We must not think He has "sanctioned" what we did then. The difficulty many Churches will face if they stop administering infant baptism will be enormous. It may threaten to collapse the very structure. But this is what reformation means. Let everything that can be shaken be shaken in order that only that which cannot be shaken may remain (Heb 12:27).

When the Bible speaks about "one Lord," it refers to Christ of the Scriptures and no other lords though there are many (1 Cor 8:5). When we talk about "one faith," we mean faith on Christ and Christ alone. All the other faiths must be renounced. The same argument holds good for "one baptism." It's an act that follows when a person puts his "one faith" on the "one Lord" (Eph 4:5). Unless infant baptism is abolished, we will continue to have more Ishmaels than Isaacs in our Churches!

8. What is the formula for Baptism?

There has been a great deal of confusion over this issue and it is quite unfortunate that this has divided many Christians. But the teaching of the Bible is plain and simple for an unbiased mind.

Jesus said, "ALL AUTHORITY has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:18,19). On the basis of this forthright teaching of our Lord, baptism must be administered "in the name of" the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, "on the authority" of Christ.

How do we then explain the formula used by the apostles in Acts, where there is no mention of Trinity? (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 19:5). In these instances the emphasis was on the difference between the baptism of John or the Jewish baptisms and the Christian baptism. Therefore the author found it not necessary to write the trinitarian formula every time but simply indicated the authority on which they were baptised. This is very clear from Acts 19:1,5. The disciples at Ephesus told Paul that they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. He immediately asked them, "Into what then were you baptised?" In other words, "How is it you say you haven't heard about the Holy Spirit? Was not the Holy Spirit mentioned in the baptismal formula?" Apparently they had received only John's baptism and so the Christian baptism was then administered to them, obviously as per Matthew 28:18,19.

The Bible does not contradict itself. This is one of the basic truths to be kept in mind while interpreting the Scriptures.

There are saintly and sincere men both among the Trinitarians and the Unitarians. Truth is one but the interpretation is different. One group should not decry the practice of the other and baptise the baptised again and again! Let's rather go after the "lost sheep!"

9. What is the full Gospel?

"We go to a full gospel Church." "He is a full gospel preacher." These are statements frequently made by Pentecostal or Charismatic people to denote their denomination or describe their doctrine. Non-Pentecostals are offended by the usage of the words "full gospel" by the other group, and ask, "Do we then preach half gospel?" Let's examine this issue in the light of the Scriptures.

The words "fullness" and "gospel" come together only twice in the New Testament, and that is when Paul concluded his Epistle to the Romans. "From Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ... When I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" (Rom 15:19,29). From what Paul has written in the other Epistles, we can understand that what he meant by what he wrote to the believers in Rome was that he did not leave out any part of the "whole counsel of God" in his preaching (Acts20:27).

The word "gospel" is an anglo-saxon word meaning "good tidings." This is brought out on the first Christmas day in the angelic announcement to the shepherds. The gospel is the "good tidings of great joy to all people" (Lk 2:10). The best definition of the gospel is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. He claims that he "received" it personally from the Lord (v 3). He writes, "I neither received it from man, not was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal 1:11,12). His definition reads like this: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3,4). This is the gospel in its purest and fullest form. Any deletion or addition corrupts it (Gal 5:4).

Full Gospel Churches, so called, include in their message the need to be baptized in water by immersion, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and exercising the gifts of the Spirit. They point out that the other evangelical Churches stop with repentance and faith. But according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, even "baptisms... laying on of hands..." etc., are all simply the "elementary" or the "first" principles of the doctrine of Christ (Heb 6:1,2). In other words water baptism, Spirit anointing, and Gifts of the Spirit are only the A-B-C of Christian life. The foundation is not the building! "Let us go on to perfection!"

Those who call themselves as full gospel preachers preach about healing and pray for the sick in their meetings. Unfortunately the gospel content in their sermons is usually low. They spend too much time telling stories and talking about their experiences. On the other hand the sermons of evangelists like Billy Graham and Augustine Sallins, who do not pray for the sick in public crusades, have been consistently rich in gospel content. The gospel is not primarily about how to be healed, rather how to be saved (Mt 1:21; Acts 16:31; Rom 1:16).

Jesus Christ is the Gospel of God (Jn 14:6). If by "full gospel" we mean all the blessings we receive through Christ, we are justified in using these words. The Bible gives various names to the Gospel. When it is called the Gospel of Peace, we stress the sacrifice of Christ (Eph 2:14-16; 6:15). The Gospel of Grace emphasizes Christ's Saviourhood (Acts 20:24; Eph 2:8). The Gospel of the Kingdom empha-sizes Christ's Lordship or Kingship (Lk 8:1; Isa 52:7).

There's no blessing apart from Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3). Even the Holy Spirit does not add anything to what Christ has "finished" for us. As the Spirit of Truth the Holy Spirit will lead us more and more towards Christ the Truth. "He will not speak on His own authority." He will glorify Christ. He will take of what is Christ's and declare it to us (Jn 16:13-15). Failure to understand this may trap us in "another" gospel in the name of "full" gospel.

Beware!

10. Is Tithing compulsory?

This is the question of a thankless heart. For all that God has bestowed on us, the tithe is the minimum we can give Him to thank and honour Him.

Abraham tithed when there was no law of tithing (Gen 14:20). His was a voluntary act of thanksgiving. Jacob voluntarily promised God, "Of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Gen 28:22).

This voluntary practice became a law of God to His people when the Nation of Israel was constituted. "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the Lord" (Lev 27:30).

The Scribes and Pharisees were tithing of even "mint and anise and cummin," but they left out justice and mercy and faithfulness. So Jesus taught them that the act of tithing must be done in the attitude of love (Mt 23:23).

We have the New Covenant following the death of Christ (Mt 26:28), and under this there is no legalistic teaching on tithing. Because the New Covenant is a "better" Covenant, better methods of giving are taught: Cheerful giving (2 Cor 9:7), Liberal giving (2 Cor 8:2), Sacrificial giving (2 Cor 8:3). Therefore for a Christian today tithing is a good place to "start," not to stay. We must give and give and keep on giving until it affects us! That which costs us nothing is worth nothing (2 Sam 24:24).

The widow gave away all she had (Lk 21:1-4). Mary poured out all her savings (Mt 26:6-13). Jesus praised both of them profusely. Going from tithe to total is Christian growth (2 Cor 8:7).The Bible calls giving a grace and we are to abound in it!

Those who don't even give a tenth of their income to God are called in the Bible as thieves and robbers (Mal 3:8).

(Read also Question 64, Where should the Tithe go?)

11. Can't believers take medicine?

The doctrine that Christian believers should not use medicine is found nowhere in the Bible but fabricated somewhere by certain extremists.

Several effective medicines are herbal extracts and they are actually God's provision for our health and strength (Gen 1:29). Rachel begged Leah for some mandrakes because it was a herb believed to promote fertility in women (Gen 30:14). It was prophet Isaiah who advised medical treatment to King Hezekiah even after God forgave the latter's sins and promised extension of life (Isa 38:5,17,21).

Jesus endorsed the medical ministry to the sick (Mt 9:12). The good Samaritan applied oil and wine on the wounds of the robbed man and bandaged them (Lk 10:34). Luke was called the "beloved" physician, obviously because of his loving medical help to the believers and the ministers (Col 4:14). Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine for his chronic stomach problems (1 Tim 5:23). The Greek verb, aleipho, translated as "anoint" in James 5:14, generally referred to "rubbing" oil on the skin as a household remedy. Of course the oil also symbolised God's powerful presence. In the visions of both Ezekiel and John we read about the "leaves" for healing (Ezek 47:12; Rev 22:2).

In the case of King Asa, he sought "only" the physicians. That was wrong (2 Chron 16:12). The woman with the issue of blood was not chided by Jesus for spending on doctors. Rather He cheered her up and healed her (Lk 8:43-48). Today we have hysterectomy to treat this condition. But there are still so many medically impossible cases calling for a miracle.

Some people argue that God does not get the glory if we are healed thro' medicine. That's incorrect. We work with our hands, and the factory or the company pays the salary (2 Thess 3:10-12). But don't we thank God for our daily bread and acknowledge Him as Jehovah-Jireh? In the same way a doctor may bandage the wound but the healing is ultimately from God who is our Jehovah-Rapha! (Ex 15:26).

There are godly men and women who would not touch medicine, whatever the sickness. It's an applaudable faith. But that should not be thrust on others. "Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God" (Rom 14:22). All do not have the same "measure" of faith (Rom 12:3). Parents who don't immunize their children against polio are failing in their moral responsibility.

It's unwise for anyone to brag he would never touch medicine. Several such paraders have regretted later with guilt when a situation necessiated medical treatment.

Preachers, especially healing evangelists, need not feel awkward to go to doctors, and hide it from people. Let people know that preachers are perfectly normal human beings! (Acts 14:15; Gal 4:13). If you have a visual defect, pray and visit an opthalmologist. He will give you a pair of glasses so you may read your Bible without strain! If you have a bad tooth, pray and get it extracted by a dentist so you can preach without pain! Physicians and surgeons are God's gifts (Jer 8:22).

The full blessings of redemption, especially for our bodies, can be realized only at Christ's return. Until then we enjoy just the firstfruits (Rom 8:23; Heb 9:28).

12. Is wearing jewels a sin?

Jewels are mentioned generally in a good sense throughout the Bible. God calls His people His jewels (Mal 3:17). Salvation and righteousness are compared to ornaments and jewels (Isa 61:10). A wise reprover is like an earring of gold (Prov 25:12). "The lips of knowledge are a precious jewel" (Prov 20:15). The lovers in the Song of Solomon talk freely about jewels during their courtship (SS 1:10,11).

In Bible times both men and women wore jewelry. On the eve of their departure from Egypt, God Himself told His people, "Every woman shall ask of her neighbour... articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters" (Ex 3:22). The people did that (12:35,36). God asks, "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?" (Jer 2:32). Concerning jewelry Jewish culture is very similar to Indian.

Jewels were worn for specific purposes also. The jewelry on the breast of the High Priest was to represent the tribes of Israel (Ex 39:8-15). Joseph, Daniel and Mordecai were presented with gold rings and chains as a mark of honour and authority (Gen 41:42; Dan 5:29; Esth 8:2). Rebekah was given jewels while getting engaged to Isaac (Gen 24:50-53). Jewels were used as a token in marriage (Isa 61:10). David referred to the golden ornaments in Israel as a sign of prosperity in Saul's reign (2 Sam 1:24). Job received rings of gold from his kith and kin while celebrating his restoration (Job 42:11). The crowning evidence of the father's affection toward his repentant son was shown by the best robe and a ring (Lk 15:22). During times of deep sorrow, garments were torn and ornaments not worn (Ex 33:4; Ezr 9:3).

Good things can be misused. Aaron made a golden calf with the earrings of the people (Ex 32:1-4). Gideon made an ephod with the gold earrings of the plunder. It became a snare for people to play harlotry (Judg 8:24-27).

The reason why Jacob buried those jewels under the terebinth tree was just that there were images of "foreign gods" engraved on them (Gen 35:1-4). In Isaiah 3:16-23 the Lord just condemns the pride of Zion. He is not speaking against jewels or perfumes or fine dress.

Both Paul and Peter emphasize inner beauty over external adornment (1 Tim 2:9,10; 1 Pet 3:3,4). They don't condemn wearing ornaments or fine dress as sin. On the other hand they stress that the worth of a woman is measured only by her godliness, submissiveness, gentleness and quietness. Peter quotes Sarah as an example of this inner beauty (1 Pet 3:5,6). If Sarah had not worn jewels, Abraham would't have had so much jewels at home to send to his would-be daughter-in-law! (Gen 24:30,47).

Those who remove jewels as a mark of dedication to God must be commended. But this is a personal and voluntary act which cannot be taught as a Bible doctrine. Some have a strong craving for jewels. When such individuals desire to grow in their spiritual life, the Lord might lead them not to wear jewels. The Lord may deal with us not only concerning jewels but also in so many other legitimate things (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23). But none of these personal dealings of God should be generalised.

There were people with jewels in the early Church (Js 2:2,3). But the rule is that we must spend less on ourselves and more for the Kingdom. Extravagance in dress, ornaments and such things is totally unchristian.

Parents should not force their children not to wear jewels. This has undesirable effects. A wife should not remove her jewels against the desire of her husband (1 Cor 7:34; Num 30:6-15). There are men who shun spiritual things because their wives go extreme. Church leaders must not place removal of jewelry as a condition for Baptism or the Lord's Supper. This is both unscriptural and unethical. Legalism does not change the heart. Otherwise how do we explain so many anti-jewelry Christians flocking gold shops in Gulf countries just before they return to India?

Sadly the jewel controversy has divided many Christians. Let's strive for unity in major things but allow liberty in minor things and thus maintain charity in all things.

13. Can we keep pictures and statues?

We have no problem in understanding the first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before Me." Why do we stumble over the second: "You shall NOT MAKE for yourself ANY carved image?" (Ex 20:2-6). Three things God has forbidden here concerning images: Don't "make" them, "bow" before them or "serve" them! If we are careless at the first step, we are sure to end up in idolatry.

The primary lesson we need to learn about God is that He is "Spirit" (Jn 4:24). Moses stressed this point to the people: "The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw NO FORM; You only heard a voice... Take careful heed to yourselves... lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure" (Dt 4:12-16). God has given us statutes, not statues. Pictures are not much different from statues. One is two-dimensional and the other is three-dimensional. The difference is only geometrical.

What about Sunday School pictures and gospel films then? Well, they are used to explain to children and non-Christians the "earthly" life of Jesus. They must grow to believe on the heavenly Christ. Even the apostles, who had seen Jesus in the physical body, wrote, "FROM NOW ON, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, YET NOW we know Him thus NO LONGER" (2 Cor 5:16). We must grow out of childish practices (1 Cor 13:11).

Both Bible history and Church history abound with sad instances where "good" things became idols. An ephod became an object of worship for even a man like Gideon and his family (Judg 8:27). People were worshipping the bronze serpent that Moses had made until King Hezekiah broke it into pieces (2 Ki 18:4). Thank God Samson threw away the donkey's jawbone with which he killed thousand men. Otherwise people would have taken "holy chips" from that bone! (Judg 15:17). We Indian Christians must be exceptionally cautious because idolatry is in the very fabric of our nation. Take an inventory of your houses and Church buildings. Throw away all unscriptural things. Break them, bury them or burn them!

Should you be interested to know how Jesus looks like now, read from the Book of Revelation (1:12-16; 2:1,12,18; 3:1; 5:6; 19:12,13). There you have the latest and authorized vision. Head full of crowns. Hair like white wool and snow. Eyes like a flame of fire. Feet like fine brass. A sharp sword in the mouth. Face shining like sun. Seven stars in the right hand. Robe dipped in blood. Try if you can capture this splendour with paint and brush.

I-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e!

14. Can believers eat pork?

The flesh of swine was forbidden under the dietary regulations of the Mosaic law (Lev 11:7,8). The Jews therefore considered eating of pork as ceremonially unclean. But under the New Covenant, by holiness God does not mean ceremonial cleanness but spiritual sanctity. The emphasis shifted from the outer to the inner, from the material to the spiritual. Jesus explained it this way: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man... whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated" (Mt 15:11,16-18).

Apostle Paul understood this truth much quicker than others. He declared, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is NOTHING unclean of itself" (Rom 14:14). Having learnt this truth from Christ (Jn 1: 17), he warned Timothy, "In latter times some will depart from the faith... commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For EVERY creature of God is good, and NOTHING is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Tim 4:1-4).

But Peter had difficulty in accepting this dispensational change, as several Christians today. Eventhough the so-called "unclean" animals were imported right from Heaven, and God Himself asked him to kill and eat them, he sternly refused. The voice from above corrected Peter, "What God has declared clean you must not call unclean" (Acts 10:10-16).

The Jerusalem Council wanted to keep the Peter-like Jewish believers comfortable while fellowshipping with their Gentile counterparts. Moreover during that transition period, the traditional reading of the Law of Moses was continuing in the synagogues every Sabbath. Therefore the non-Jewish believers were given a couple of dietary regulations also (Acts 15:19-21). Otherwise, under the New Covenant, because we have died with Christ, we don't need to subject ourselves to regulations like "Touch not, Taste not and Handle not!" Paul calls these as man-made doctrines and self-imposed religion (Col 2:16, 20-23).

Food habits however have deep cultural roots. In missionary work we must stay sensitive in this area lest we "destroy the work of God for the sake of food" (Rom 14:20). For example, in the list of animals permitted for food under the Law of Moses, the ox comes first (Dt 14:4). But eating of beef is highly objectionable to many Hindus and tribals in India. But they have no problem with pork! We therefore suggest to the missionaries working in such regions not to eat beef as a consideration to the people and the work (Rom 14:15-23). The decision of the Jerusalem Council concerning foodstuff was made on these lines only. Otherwise, in the absolute sense, we can eat any meat after giving thanks to the Creator God.

Some Physicians feel that there were also medical reasons why God forbade the eating of the meat of certain animals and birds. This may be true. For example, pork-eating is definitely harmful to those diagnosed for high cholestrol. One should choose the right kind of food to keep his body, the temple of God, healthy.

15. Is it right to celebrate Christmas?

The Church Calendar has fixed December 25th as the Christmas Day. There is so much of dispute over its accuracy and it does not matter. The fact remains that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity entered this world in flesh and blood on the first Christmas Day. History is His Story!

Remembering the birth of Christ in a special way on a particular day of the year has nothing unscriptural about it. "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Rom 14:6). One has total freedom to celebrate or not to celebrate Christmas. "Let us not judge one another anymore" on such matters (Rom 14:13).

But how we celebrate Christmas is important. In several so-called Christian countries and communities, it has become a day of drunkenness and revelries and it brings dishonour to the Babe of Bethlehem. Our celebration may include new dresses and good food but we must remember that "the Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).

On the first Christmas Day the shepherds "made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child" (Lk 2:17). Make the Christmas season a time of agressive evangelism! Instead of visiting Christian homes with carol singing, go to slums, villages and street corners to proclaim the Message to non-Christians!

And the shepherds were "glorifying and praising God" (Lk 2:20). Let Christmas season be a time of rich worship and lavish praise for "God's unspeakable gift" (2 Cor 9:15).

When we remember Christ's First Coming let's get ready for His Second Coming by reaching people who have not yet heard about His First Coming even after more than 2000 years. Let every tribe and tongue and people group sing, "Glory to God in the Highest!" (Rev 7:9; Lk 2:14).

(Read also Question 100, Should we Indianise Christmas Celebration?)

16. What about the Prosperity Doctrine?

I believe in prosperity. But I also believe God allows times of adversity in the lives of His children. The wisest Preacher made the most balanced statement: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other!" (Eccl 7:14). Job had the same balanced view on life. God endorsed what he spoke. He said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" The Holy Spirit records, "In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:10).

One of the favourite texts for the advocates of the prosperity doctrine is 3 John 2, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." The promise in this verse is emphasized these days more than the condition. The fact is that most of the believers are not prospering in their souls! They hardly spend an hour with God alone in prayer. Very few memorize atleast one Scripture verse each day. Many of them don't go out even once a week after lost souls. Tears of confession and repentance are rare. Personal purity is not the priority. Sacrifice is an unknown word. Where then is prosperity in soul? Why blow up the promise alone, leaving out the condition? If God should answer our prayers to grant us physical health in proportion to our spiritual wellbeing, the Church will have to offer its members crutches and wheelchairs at a subsidized price! Beware!

Another oft-quoted verse is 2 Corinthians 8:9, "Jesus became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." Read chapters 8 and 9 and understand in what He guarantees to make us rich. "Rich in liberality!" (8:2). The Macedonian believers were in deep poverty but they were rich in liberality (8:1,2). And then rich in every good work! (9:8). We will be "enriched in everything for all liberality!" (9:11). Multiplication or increase of our righteousness! (9:9,10). The Bible clearly states there are many children of God who are poor materially but "rich in faith" (Js 2:5). Those who have been blessed with riches are commanded to "be rich in good works" (1 Tim 6:17-19). Again, Jesus was never rich materially. His riches speak of the heavenly glory which He forsook for us.

That of the widow was no ordinary faith. She believed in giving ten tenths to God! But still she was poor. She had only two coins! In the eyes of Jesus she was richer than all the rich men who gave from their abundance. She was in material poverty but spiritual prosperity (Mk 12:41-44).

In the Old Testament the emphasis was on material blessings but in the New what is emphasized is spiritual prosperity. "Blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3).

To have less today is not necessarily a curse. The apostles were rich in knowledge, wisdom and other spiritual virtues but many times they were in want. Paul writes, "Even to the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten and homeless" (1 Cor 4:11).

The Jerusalem saints sold their lands and houses and laid them at the apostles' feet to be distributed to those in need. In spite of this act of absolute faith, there came a time when Paul had to appeal to other Churches to raise money for the "poor saints" in Jerusalem (Rom 15:25,26). History abounds with examples of missionaries who gave away all they had and lived the simplest life possible in remote areas for the sake of the gospel, sometimes even without the basic needs supplied. Were they not heroes of faith? Therefore to say we will get everything if only we have faith is an oversimplification.

The health-and-wealth preachers would tell us, "The miracle is in your mind... The miracle is in your mouth," and so on. Who does not know that several of these preachers are in heavy debts? One wonders why their own formulae of positive thinking and positive confession do not work for them! God is Sovereign and He cannot be enclosed by our theories.

We are not calling Christians to poverty. But there were days when it was thought that poorer a man richer he was spiritually! Now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. What we need is a balance. Christians should work hard and expect God to meet their daily needs. Jesus has taught us to pray for our daily bread. But no one should try to become rich because "the love of money is the root of all evil." The golden rule is: "Godliness with contentment is great gain!" "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these let's be content" (1 Tim 6:6-10).

17. What is Perfection?

Perfection is understood in the New Testament as growth and maturity. Apostle Paul speaks of personal perfection as well as corporate perfection as an ongoing process. "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on" (Phil 3:12-15). "Till we all come... to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ... may grow up in all things" (Eph 4:13-15).

The New Testament speaks about the "standing" as well as the "state" of God's children. Our standing is our position in Christ; our state refers to our practice. Here are a few examples: By standing "all" believers are saints before God (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:1; etc). At the same time, we are called to be holy and walk holy (1 Pet 1:15,16). According to our standing, we are already complete in Christ (Col 2:10; but we are to "be made complete" in our state (2 Cor 13:9).

Our life in Christ can be divided into three experiences. The first one is Justification or Salvation or Rebirth, which is a crisis experience. Next is Sanctification, which is an ongoing process. Finally, there is Glorification, which will again be a crisis experience. Now we are between the crisis experiences, one past and the other future. We can further understand sanctification by looking at its three aspects. First, positional sanctification (1 Cor 1:30); second, progressive sanctification (2 Cor 3:18; Phil 1:6); third, prospective sanctification (1 Thess 5:23). Thus our sanctification will be complete at the Second Coming of Christ. At that time, our standing and state will perfectly agree. They will become one.

We do not reach a state of sinless perfection now. The saintly Apostle John wrote, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8). As God's children with His seed in us, we will not practice sin, though at times we may yield to temptations (1 Jn 2:29; 3:5-10). We are to at once confess our sin to God, be cleansed and walk in victory claiming the promises and power of God (1 Jn 1:9; 1 Pet 2:3,4; Rom 6:14).

In the light of the New Testament, the perfect Christian is just a growing and mature Christian. Some of his marks are—

Love for the unlovables (Mt 5:43-45)
Detachment from materialism (Mt 19:20,21)
Control of the tongue (Js 3:2)
Patience in suffering (Heb 2:10)
Spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:6; 13-15)
Oneness with believers (Eph 4:11-13)
Christlikeness in character (Lk 6:40)

Perfection means growing from holiness to holiness, righteousness to righteousness, and victory to victory, by looking to Jesus (Rev 22:11b). When we finally meet Him, "we shall be like Him!" (1 Jn 3:2).

18. What is the "sin that leads to death?"

1 John 5:16,17, "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death."

The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Any sin when it is full-grown brings forth death (Js 1:15). But the Bible differentiates between accidental sin and deliberate sin. Under the Old Covenant the priest could make atonement for "unintentional" sins and the candidate would be forgiven. But if a person did anything "persumptuously" he would be completely cut off (Num 15:27-31). God's forgiveness is not limited by the seriousness of the sin, but it depends on the attitude of the sinner. There is no sin that cannot be washed by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn 1:7). God's generous promise is that, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool" (Isa 1:18). It is repentance that matters (vv 19,20).

The "sin that leads to death" is not just murder or adultery. It is outright apostasy. It is denying the very basic faith on Christ. In the context where apostle John refers to the sin that leads to death, he writes about "continuing to believe in the Name of the Son of God" and "keeping ourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5:13,21). When a believer denies his faith he crucifies again the Son of God and puts Him to an open shame (Heb 6:6). It is humanly impossible to renew such a person again to repentance. We can pray for him so he might come to his senses but we cannot pray for his forgiveness. Peter denied Christ and even cursed Him by his lips, but his heart did not apostatize. He was forgiven when he repented with tears of bitterness.

The Bible exhorts believers to pray for one another not only for their sicknesses but also for their sins (Js 5:15,16). When Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and Job prayed for his friends, God forgave them (Gen 20:7,17; Job 42:8). But there were instances when God told His servants not to pray for the forgiveness of the people (Jer 7:16; 11:14). God will forgive erring believers at our request, but those who have gone completely after heresy are outside the sphere of our prayers. There is no hope unless they personally repent.

We establish that the "sin unto death" is the denial of faith. When a Christian commits this sin he usually withdraws himself from the company of God's people and forsakes assembling together with them. He is said to trample the Son of God underfoot, treat His blood as an unholy thing and insult the Spirit of grace. Only a raging fire of judgment awaits him (Heb 10:23-29). Paul was a blasphemer but he obtained mercy because he did it "ignorantly," not with "the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 1:13).

It is appropriate to make a reference here to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Jesus called as the unpardonable sin. The Holy Spirit is the only force available in divine economy to convict us of "unbelief" the sin of sins, and bring us under the lordship of Christ (Jn 16:8,9; 1 Cor 12:3). If a person blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, he is cutting the very branch on which he is sitting! (For a broader treatment of this aspect, refer to Question 47.)

If you have denied the faith you once professed, don't condemn yourself. Come back to God. He will abundantly pardon. The Church also must not simply write off those who wander from the truth. The members must do all that's possible to bring them back knowing that "he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins" (Js 5:19,20).

19. Can we lose our salvation?

Among the Bible-believing Christians there are two groups which hold views totally opposed to each other concerning salvation. One group claims, "Once saved, always safe!" The other group asserts, "Only those who endure till the end will be saved!" This issue has been responsible to throw believers to opposite camps resulting in bitter fights. What does the Bible say concerning this matter?

There are Scripture texts to support each view, if they are taken in isolation. Here are a few sample texts in support of "eternal security." Philippians 1:6, "God who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." John 10:27-29, "I give My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." John 17:12, "Father, those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition." Romans 8:30, "Whom God predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."

Some of the favourite texts of the other group are these: Mt 24:13, "He who endures to the end shall be saved." 1 Cor 10:5,12, "With most of our fathers God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness ... Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Heb 10:38, "Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him."

These are the two theological streams in Christendom. The first view was advocated by John Calvin (1509-1564), a French Reformer. He said, "Salvation is not gained by our merit; so it cannot be lost by our demerit." His favourite text was Ephesians 2:8,9. In other words, Calvin emphasized God's part in our salvation. As a reaction to Calvinism, Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), a Dutch Theologian, emphasized man's part in salvation. Among his favourite texts was Philippians 2:12, "Work out your own salvation." Calvinism overemphasizes God's sovereignty and Arminianism man's responsibility. I believe that these are simply two sides of the same coin. The Bible is neither Calvinistic not Arminian! It beautifully balances both these views as the following passages confirm—

Phil 2:12,13, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."

Jer 32:40, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me."

Hos 10:12, "We are to "sow" righteousness, and God will "shower" righteousness on us.

We are not saved by "works" (Eph 2:8,9), but we must "strive" to enter through the narrow gate (Lk 13:23,24).

No condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, but they must walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:1).

Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith, but we must be patient and consistent runners (Heb 12:1,2).

Some more references to show how God's sovereignity and man's responsibility must be balanced: Lev 20:7,8; Rom 6:11-14; Col 3:9,10,5,8; 1 Pet 2:9-11; 2 Cor 6:18 & 7:1; 1 Jn 3:2,3; 1 Jn 5:18; 1 Thess 5:22,23; etc.

Now coming to our question: "Can we lose our salvation?" The wholesome teaching of the Bible does not give the answer as "yes" or "no." On the other hand, the Bible teaches that having been saved through grace, we must deny all ungodliness and walk in obedience to God's Word and stay prepared always for the Return of Christ (Tit 2:11-13). Any hairsplitting of this issue will only destroy the unity of the Body of Christ and damage our spiritual wellbeing.

Without God I cannot; without me He will not!

20. Will there be Rapture?

The Bible speaks of Christ's Second Coming eight times more often than of His first coming. The New Testament alone speaks of it 318 times. One of the commonest words of greeting used by the early Christians was "Maranatha!" (1 Cor 16:22). It is an Aramaic word which means, "The Lord is coming!" Yes the early believers lived with the jubilant expectation of the Return of their Lord.

While almost all the Christians believe in the Second Coming of Christ, they are widely divided on the timing and nature of His Return. There are broadly three schools of thought—

  • One group believes that there will be Rapture. That is, the Church will be caught up when Christ appears in the mid-air. It will be immediately followed by the Great Tribulation of seven years. At the end of this period Christ will return publicly to the earth and establish His one thousand year reign which will be followed by eternity.
  • The second group maintains a mid-tribulational view which means that Christ will come after a three-and-a-half-year period of tribulation.
  • The third view is post-tribulational which says that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ will be only after that.

Each group can quote a few Scripture verses to support its view. I personally believe in the pretribulational and premillennial Return of Christ. This viewpoint has been held by most of the evangelical scholars and Bible teachers of repute.

We are now in the Church Age. This will be terminated suddenly when Christ will appear FOR the saints in the mid-air. "The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess 4:13-18). This is what we call the Rapture of the Church. This is our most "blessed hope!" (Tit 2:13). Then the world goes through the Great Tribulation under the rule of Antichrist. This seven year period is "the day of God's wrath." At its end Christ will return WITH the saints to the earth to establish His millennial Kingdom here (2 Thess 2:1-8; Rev 20:1-6). Then will follow eternity (Rev 21,22).

The Church will not go through the Great Tribulation because "God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10). The Church will be kept away from "the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world" (Rev 3:10). Some argue that the Lord will purify the Church through the Great Tribulation. I wonder why God should be interested in purifying only the last generation of Christians this way! Poor fellows!

The Second Coming of Christ is a message of comfort (1 Thess 4:18). We should not let it become a matter of conflict. The Rapture issue must not cause rupture in our relationships. While holding one view, let us respect that of others. The most important thing is the preparation for the Second Coming. There are three bounden duties we ought to be found "doing when He comes" (Mt 24:46)—

  • First, purification. "When Christ is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 Jn 3:2,3). Don Stanton of Maranatha Revival Fellowship writes, "In Justification we are made a light; in Sanctification we are made bright!" Cooperating with the cleansing work of the Blood, the Word and the Spirit, we will become brighter and brighter "until the full light of the day!" (Prov 4:18).
  • Secondly, prayer. Jesus said, "Of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is" (Mk 13:32,33).
  • Finally, proclamation of the Gospel. When the disciples enquired Jesus about the time of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, He instantly replied them that it was not for them to know the times and seasons, but they should go on with the job of witnessing to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7,8). Earlier He had told them, "This gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come!" (Mt 24:14).

21. When will Jesus return?

The dawn of AD 2000 became a hype in the business world. Even though the new millennium began only in January 2001, the number 2000 created quite a stir and hysteria. India alone is said to have spent anywhere from Rs. 1500 crores to Rs.2000 crores over the Y2K programme but thank God nothing catastrophic has happened. The religious world also had been thrown into all sorts of speculations. The pulpit sermons of the New Year watchnight services in Churches alerted Christians about the possible return of Christ in the year 2000. Sincere Christians want to know what the Bible has to say on this matter.

The last recorded message of Christ in the Bible is the conclusive answer to all the questions regarding the "time" of His Return. "Surely I am coming QUICKLY" (Rev 22:20). The word "surely" is to encourage us, and the word "quickly" must challenge us. The Lord frequently used the word "quickly" in His messages to the Churches (Rev 2:5,16; 3:11; 22:7,12). This was literally believed by the Christians of the first century. That was one reason why they had been greeting one another with the word "Maranatha," an Aramaic term meaning, "The Lord is coming!" (1 Cor 16:22).

If the first century Christians had lived with the every-moment-expectation of the return of Christ, how much anxious our expectation today should be! However, the Bible consistently discourages us from any date-setting. In His parting words Christ told His disciples, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7). He had earlier told them repeatedly, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Mt 24:42; 25:13). But man is always curious to know what he need not know! When Christ says that He Himself does not know when He would return, why should we be curious about it? (Mk 13:32).

One thing we can be sure of. That is, we in this generation are much nearer to the Second Coming of Christ than the earlier generations. As Revivalist Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994) used to say, "We are not living in the last days but in the last minutes!" Most of what was predicted to happen before the Return of Christ has been fulfilled. One of the most important signs namely worldwide evangelisation is in its final phase, and the work goes on much faster than anytime in Church history (Mt 24:14). Sin is rampant and the "cup of iniquity" is overflowing (Mt 24:12). The Judge is standing "at the door!" (Js 5:9).

Following the pattern of epochal events in the Biblical calendar, it is most likely that Christ would return in this generation. If we had known the exact date, we would not be ever ready but be postponing the preparation to the eleventh hour. It is in His sheer mercy and sovereign wisdom that the Father has kept this as a secret with Himself.

Instead of date-setting, let's set goals for the total evangelisation of "Jerusalem, all Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth!" (Acts 1:7,8). Don't go after signs, visions and voices which claim to give new revelations about the second advent of Christ (Mt 24:23-26). Be satisfied with the vivid Biblical revelations and don't explore mysteries of which the Bible is silent (Dt 29:29).

 

 

 

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